Updated at 11:01 a.m. CT
On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers issued what he calls a safer-at-home order, which orders the closure of all nonessential businesses. Basically, it says Wisconsinites should only leave their homes to perform essential jobs or to meet essential needs, such as shopping for food or medicine. It goes into effect at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and will remain in effect until 8 a.m. on April 24.
The announcement of Evers' latest order comes after he took other steps in the last couple of weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. First, he closed K-12 schools. Then, he limited gatherings of more than 10 people, and closed bars and restaurants — except for those that offer carry-out or delivery service.
Under the safer-at-home order, Evers said bars and restaurants may continue to operate, offering only carry-out and deliveries. According to a press release, businesses that are allowed to operate under his safer-at-home order include:
- Health care operations, including home health workers
- Critical infrastructure
- Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable individuals
- Fresh and non-perishable food retailers, including convenience stores, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food banks
- Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food and goods directly to residences
- Pharmacies, health care supply stores and health care facilities
- Child care facilities, with some limitations
- Gas stations and auto repair facilities
- Laundry businesses, dry cleaners and services necessary for maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operation of a residence, including garbage collection
- Hardware stores, plumbers, and electricians
- Educational institutions, for the purposes of facilitating distance learning
- Roles required for any business to maintain minimum basic operations, which includes security and payroll
- Law and safety, and essential government functions
The decision for the safer-at-home order wasn't something Evers took lightly, but he said it's necessary to impose social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases.
"We’re all in this together. You can still go out and take a walk, go for a bike ride, walk the dogs. It’s good exercise and it’s good for everybody’s mental health, but please don’t take any other unnecessary trips and limit your travel to essential needs, like going to the doctor, grabbing groceries or getting medication,” Evers said at a media briefing on Monday.
The goal of the stricter rules, Evers said, is to slow the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed with sick patients. He said he’s working to provide the necessary equipment to keep people on the front lines safe.
Evers said he asked the federal government to provide protective gear for law enforcement officers and firefighters who are at-risk of contracting the coronavirus while performing their jobs. Evers requested 50,000 non-surgical masks, 10,000 face shields, 11,000 coveralls, and 35,000 pairs of protective gloves.
“Frankly, folks, this pandemic is a bigger challenge than any one governor, agency or unit of government can manage on its own,” he said.
For its part, the Wisconsin National Guard is working on rolling out a protective gear donation or buyback program in the coming days. Adjutant General Paul Knapp said he’s asking for help from businesses that have closed as a result of the outbreak, and the gear would be distributed to medical personnel and first responders.
“Some of the items we’re interested in are the N95 particulate respirators, face masks, gloves, isolation gowns, face shields, surgical gowns, tie backs, coveralls, and thermometers. We’ll house those materials in a secure state warehouse and then manage the distribution of them based on the priorities set forth,” Knapp explained.
Knapp said currently, there are more than 300,000 Guard members mobilized to assist the state in its COVID-19 response. He declined to say if the Guard would enforce or arrest people for violating the safer-at-home order. The state’s legal counsel said instead, local law enforcement agencies will be responsible for those duties, but didn’t elaborate.
Some members of the business community reacted late Monday to Gov. Evers' latest efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce gave a supportive but cautious response to the order to close nonessential businesses.
In a statement, Sheehy said Wisconsin has “an innovative and adaptable manufacturing capacity. This decision by Gov. Evers will add to our economic hardship, but it also is necessary to reduce the real health risks. We support this step so we can come through this crisis and come out stronger. The sooner we start, the quicker we get through to the other side.”
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.